For those in the Binghamton area, last week's shootings in Arizona were very much reminiscent of the tragedy at the American Civic Association in 2009. As with the ACA, the Tucson shootings raise many questions about the role of mental health organizations in preventing such tragedies. Our Janelle Burrell sat down with Broome County's Mental Health Commissioner.
BINGHAMTON, N.Y. -- Two cities separated by thousands of miles, now linked by a common tragedy: A mass shooting and a lone gunman responsible.
"In our situation here, nobody knew what was going on with him," said Art Johnson, Broome County's Mental Health Commissioner.
And in Arizona?
"It may very well be," Johnson said.
Jiverly Wong shot and killed 13 people at the American Civic Association in 2009 and is believed to have suffered from mental illness. The same is suspected in the case of alleged Tucson shooter, Jared Loughner.
Many are now calling into question the role communities should play in preventing such tragedies.
"I did read one of the headlines that it's easier to buy a gun than get a mental health appointment in Arizona," Johnson said.
Commissioner Johnson says the evolution of how mental health is dealt with in our society has led to two major changes in the mental health system.
"The institutionalization of mentally ill individuals so there aren't big state hospitals full of people anymore and patients rights," he explained. "So people can refuse to participate in treatment."
While some are now coming forward saying Loughner did exhibit warning signs, Johnson says it may be impossible to know when anyone will snap, even those who are mentally ill.
"There is no tracking mechanism to follow people with mental illnesses," Johnson said.
In New York, only a court order can force a mentally ill person into hospitalization, but even that is not fool proof.
Said Johnson, "If they're not at imminent risk to hurt themselves or someone else, they're usually seen and released."
Making rampages like these sometimes impossible to predict.
"Hindsight is always 20/20 and if someone knew this was going to happen," Johnson said, "I'm sure they would have tried to stop it."
Johnson says Broome County has implemented training for law enforcement personnel on how to deal with the mentally ill. Their hope is that it prevents officers and others from getting injured when potentially dangerous situations arise.